United Kingdom is responsible for 141 migrants rescued in Mediterranean, Italy says

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Salvini, the leader of the rightwing League party, has spearheaded the new Italian government's tough stance on migration which was seen NGO search-and-reascue vessels denied access to Italy's ports.

Tove Ernst, a spokesman for the European Commission, said it was in contact with "a number of member states that have approached us regarding the incident" to try to find a "swift resolution" to the standoff.

Doctors Without Borders and SOS Mediterranee, who operate the ship Aquarius, said that the health of those rescued in two operations Friday is stable but that many are weak and malnourished.

He added the rescue was co-ordinated by the Libyan coastguard and that the vessel is now in Maltese waters.

The migrants, who are mainly from Somalia and Eritrea, we picked up over the weekend by the Aquarius ship, operated by the Franco-German SOS Méditerranée and Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders/MSF) group.

They first found 25 people drifting on a small wooden boat without an engine and believe they had been at sea for 36 hours.

Malta has always insisted that it stood by the global convention, which stipulated that people should be disembarked at the closest, safest port.

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In an online blog earlier in the day, MSF said its crew reported that the vessel was standing by at 60km from European shores, with 141 people, including 67 unaccompanied minors, two children under the age of five and two pregnant women. Many migrants recounted how they were "held in inhumane conditions in Libya", where human traffickers are based, the aid group aid. But on Monday, Madrid did not repeat its offer, with a government spokeswoman saying: "At the moment, Spain is not the safest port because it is not the nearest one" for Aquarius to dock.

"What is of utmost importance is that the survivors are brought to a place of safety without delay, where their basic needs can be met and where they can be protected from abuse". The migrants will be brought to Malta in the afternoon, sources said.

Due to pressure from Italy and Malta, most charity ships are no longer patrolling off the coast of Libya.

The Aquarius' search and rescue coordinator Nick Romaniuk said some migrants on board were sick and wounded and "need to be disembarked as soon as possible" for proper medical care.

Although arrivals in Italy of rescued migrants smuggled from Libya have sharply dropped off this year compared with previous years, some 600,000 reached Italian ports in the past few years.

Protracted feuds between EU states over how to handle immigrants have thrown the issue back onto the European agenda.

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